BAGHDAD - The U.S. military is
weighing new directions for Iraq, including an even bigger troop buildup if
President Bush thinks his "surge" strategy needs a further boost, the chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace revealed that he and the chiefs of the Army, Marine
Corps, Navy and Air Force are developing their own assessment of the situation
in Iraq, to be presented to Bush in September. That will be separate from the
highly anticipated report to Congress that month by Gen. David Petraeus, the top
commander for Iraq.
The Joint Chiefs are considering a range of actions, including another troop
buildup, Pace said without making any predictions. He called it prudent planning
to enable the services to be ready for Bush's decision.
The military must "be prepared for whatever it's going to look like two
months from now," Pace said in an interview with two reporters traveling with
him to Iraq from Washington.
"That way, if we need to plus up or come down" in numbers of troops in Iraq,
the details will have been studied, he said.
Pace, on his first visit since U.S. commanders accelerated combat operations
in mid-June, said another option under consideration is maintaining current
troop levels beyond September.
There are now about 158,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, reflecting a boost of about
30,000 to carry out the new strategy Bush announced in January. The plan is
focused on providing better security for Iraqis in Baghdad, but the intended
effect ¡ª political reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites ¡ª has yet to be
achieved, and many in Congress are clamoring to begin withdrawing troops soon.
In Washington on Monday, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said he would
force the chamber's first all-night debate on the Iraq war Tuesday night in
advance of a vote Wednesday on whether to bring home all combat troops by next
Republicans are using Senate rules to insist that the measure have 60 votes
to pass ¡ª a de facto filibuster since it takes that many votes to cut off
Pace said in Iraq that the administration must consider not only what works
best on the battlefield but also the growing stress of more than four years of
war on American troops and their families.
He repeatedly mentioned his concern about soldiers and Marines doing multiple
tours of duty and the decision in January to extend soldiers' Iraq deployments
by three months, to 15 months.
"That has impact on families," he said in a separate Associated Press
interview at a U.S. military headquarters on the outskirts of the capital after
meeting with commanders and conferring by secure video teleconference with Bush.
Pace also conferred with Petraeus and Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2
commander in Iraq, who said he did not currently foresee requesting more troops.
"Right now I can't find an assessment where I would say I need more troops,"
Odierno said, adding that he is confident that by September he will be able to
give Petraeus his advice on how the troop buildup is working.
"My assessment right now is, I need more time" to understand how the
offensive targeting al-Qaida in Iraq is working and how it could lead to
political progress, Odierno said.
"I'm seeing some progress now here in Iraq. We have really just started what
the Iraqis term 'liberating' them from al-Qaida. What I've got to determine is
what do I need in order to continue that progress so that the political piece
can then take hold and Iraqi security forces can hold this for the long term."
Pace said he saw signs of improvement since his previous visit in April,
based in part on a 30-minute aerial tour of Baghdad in a Black Hawk helicopter
as well as private talks with commanders.
"The surge is having very good positive results on the streets of Baghdad,"
he told AP. "We have yet to see the political progress and results that you
would hope to see."
All the while, the violence continues. On Monday, a suicide truck bombing
followed by two smaller car bombs killed more than 80 people and wounded at
least 180 in Kirkuk, about 180 miles north of Baghdad.
There are deep tensions between Kurds and Arabs in the city, and Sunni
insurgents are believed to be moving north, fleeing the U.S. offensive around
Baghdad and consolidating to carry out deadly bombings.
At the same time, the U.S. military said American troops launched a new
offensive south of Baghdad on Monday, aiming to stop weapons and fighters from
moving into the capital.
As for the U.S. troop boost, some on the Joint Chiefs had argued against it
in January, in part out of concern that it could not be sustained long enough to
have the desired effect and that it would put too much strain on the military.
In the AP interview, Pace made clear that he believes the soldiers and
Marines in Iraq are focused on their mission. He seemed more concerned about the
possibility that families eventually would grow fed up with the strain of long
separations and the worry about loved ones being killed or wounded.
The chiefs for a number of weeks have been studying the timing of a possible
U.S. military transition away from today's combat-oriented mission to one
focused mainly on training Iraqi security forces while also protecting Iraq's
borders and continuing the fight against terrorists.
Without opining on any new course of action in Iraq, Pace stressed in the
interview his concern that multiple combat tours for many in the Army and Marine
Corps could tear at the fabric of the military. He said that is one reason he is
visiting the troops now ¡ª to hear their concerns, assess their morale and
explain to them why he advocated extending Army tours from 12 months to 15.
He said he also would stop in Germany this week to meet with family members
of military units that are affected by tour extensions.
Pace, who will be replaced soon by Adm. Michael Mullen as Joint Chiefs
chairman, was asked whether he feels political pressure amid a heated and
prolonged Iraq debate in Congress and the approach of the 2008 elections.
"I don't feel any pressure" of that sort, he said.